Meet Nisha Padayachee, an avid runner and wildlife activist from South Africa who is using her extensive travels to highlight the plight of the South African rhino. Nisha and her family joined us on our Taste of Italy tour in June 2017, and caused quite a stir with their rhino-related apparel. We caught up with this motivated runner to learn more about her family’s life-long love of travel, their activism endeavours and how we can all contribute to a more sustainable tourism industry.
I am proudly South African, born in Durban and raised in Pietermaritzburg, KZN. I was blessed to be able to continue with my tertiary studies and completed a dietetics degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I practiced as a registered dietitian at some of KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State’s oldest and most established hospitals, but in 2007 I decided to take the plunge and explore beyond the borders of South Africa. For the past 10 years, I have been working in the Gulf and something that has become abundantly clear to me is that the moment you live away from South Africa, you automatically become an ambassador for our beautiful country. I have often been asked where in the world I would eventually like to settle, and my answer is always the same – beautiful South Africa.
The chance encounter that started it all
Every Christmas for the past 4-5 years, my family and I make a trip to Kruger National Park as our annual pilgrimage. It is a bittersweet visit because we thrive on seeing Africa’s wildlife, but always leave tearful knowing that many of those beautiful rhinos, elephants, lions and other wildlife speciesare facing a brutality every single day – man’s greed – resulting in more and more species being added to the endangered species list. Africa’s Unicorn, aka rhinos, are our particular favourite, ever since we came into contact with a beautiful boy called Gertjie at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. He was one of many orphaned calves who survived after his mother was poached.
Saving the rhinos one run at a time
Since that encounter, we realised our purpose and became determined to try and help these gentle giants. I am an avid endurance runner – what I lack in speed, I make up for in passion. In 2015, I ran my 1st Comrades Marathon and dedicated the achievement to the fight to save our rhinos. In 2016, my family and I raised R20 000 for Save the Rhino via the GivenGain Foundation. This culminated in me running and completing my 2nd Comrades Marathon. Throughout 2016 and 2017, we raised another R6600 for the Wildlands Conservation Trust via the Comrades Marathon Association. Although I had a tough day on the road for Comrades 2017, I have already committed to going back for 2018 to raise more money and awareness to save our rhinos.
I remain committed to my running goals but also want to explore the many cultures that make up our world. Enter the idea of a ‘Rhino Runcation’ – I get to travel to races, achieve my running goals, raise awareness about the genocide inflicted on our worlds rhinos and still explore the world.
Taking the plight of the rhino on the road
Our trip to Italy with Expat Explore was a treat for my mother, who’s never been to Europe. We lost my father in 2004, and although we all shared a strong bond with him, it was particularly hard for my mom to accept. This is why we try to give her new experiences and make happy memories whenever we can. Travelling to places that she has always dreamt of visiting makes this possible. It was only when we started packing for the trip that I realised we could use this travel experience to benefit rhinos and wildlife in South Africa and around the world. Enter the idea to #wearsomethingthatmeanssomething. My family and I chose to wear pieces of clothing we had purchased from specific NPOs, with proceeds going straight to rhino conservation efforts. People would ask us about it throughout the trip, which gave us the opportunity to tell them more about the plight of the rhinos and how they can help.
The experience in Italy and how Nisha and her family got so much more than they bargained for
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles” and that’s exactly how my family and I walked away from the Taste of Italy tour. The individuals in the group were from all over the globe, different walks of life, different ages and different belief systems. But our differences did not separate us – instead, our differences intrigued each of us, propelling us to interact more, question more, understand better and respect more.
The rhino made it to the leaning tower of Pisa! Italy has done well to stay true to the authenticity of the century-old pieces of treasure and art. Standing in Sistine Chapel, looking to the heavens and absorbing the work of Michelangelo’s nine scenes from the Book of Genesis were immeasurable; eating a simple 3-ingredient thin-crusted pizza made by an Italian will change your standards of what you expect pizza to be; cruising Lake Garda on a boat where all you have to do is absorb the scenic view laid out before you; marvelling at basilicas that are adorned with the post intricate detail will keep you spell bound. There is just so much to see, absorb and appreciate in this ancient land.
What Nisha’s up to next
I have already started training for the 2018 Comrades Marathon and like always, the training for and completion of this ultramarathon will be dedicated to Africa’s Unicorn, my #spiritanimal. However, an additional challenge I have set for myself is to climb the world’s tallest freestanding mountain – Mount Kilimanjaro, proudly wearing my rhino apparel. I know this will be a mammoth challenge, but the fight to save our worlds rhinos is all the inspiration I need. Summiting Kilimanjaro will mean that no matter how long and difficult any journey might feel, and no matter how many times you are tempted to quit, what you are fighting for makes the journey that much more valuable and a happy memory worth treasuring.
Travelling sustainably – Nisha’s tips on how you can help!
As travellers, we create a demand for certain experiences when we support local businesses that abuse natural resources. By avoiding the following animal experiences on your travels, you can contribute to a more environmentally-conscious tourism industry.
Elephant rides: Before you book a ride on an elephant’s back, think about how these intelligent animals are not meant to be domesticated. The actual training inflicted on young elephant calves included starvation and torture in order to break their wild nature. I say NO to Elephant rides and think you should too.
Selfies with wild animals: What might seem like a harmless photo to you might equate to a lifetime of misery for a baby tiger or any other wild animal. These animals are often subjected to stresses and physical abuse to make them obey the demands of their keepers. Some are even sedated so that you can get your ultimate selfie to post on FB or Instagram. Selfies with wild animals has nothing to do with conservation and you can stop the practice.
Swimming with dolphins: Dolphins belong in their natural habitat – the ocean – and not in a tank with tourists. Dolphins are social and intelligent animals that can swim up to 60 miles a day with their families if in the ocean. Often, these animals succumb to stress-induced conditions like stomach ulcers and die prematurely.
Visiting aquariums, zoos and circuses: Each of these tourist spots are ‘home’ to a vast spectrum of animals, but none of them can replicate any of these animals’ natural habitats. These animals are wild and meant to roam a vast landscape, covering hundreds of miles a day. Rather opt to see these intelligent creatures in their natural homes.
Make responsible purchases as a tourist. Think twice before buying/consuming something made from an exotic animal or plant. More than 100 elephants are killed every day for the illegal ivory trade and one rhino is killed every 6 hours for his keratin-based horn. Choose not to be part of this illegal trade – something that is exploiting and potentially placing these magnificent creatures on the endangered species list.
Look out for an upcoming blog in which we will share more of Nisha’s recommendations for visitors to South Africa who want to see the region’s wildlife & contribute to its conservation. Also check out two of our South Africa tours that visit the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre that Nisha mentioned ! Find out more here.